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Water cache near redline 13.7 to 30.4 Bonus miles: .2 miles from water cache to trail. Wildlife: nothing large, no snakes
A windy night! After a calm sunset and moonrise the winds picked up and blew all night, with strong gusts. Add to that a bright full moon and sleep came sporadically. Welcome to the CDT. The worst part was actually the fine gritty dust that would whirl around with the strongest gusts and get into everything, in particular my eyes and face. The winds made breaking camp tougher as I couldn’t let go of any light items at all until stowed away.
The good news was that the forecast called for less wind during the day. This also brought cooler-than-normal temperatures, only into the 70s. After breakfast and packing up, time for plans. What path to take? The water cache was on a road that parallels the main route to the next water cache. Many people elect to walk the road since it has several water sources and comments in Guthook indicate there wasn’t much to see on the trail. But I knew there were going to be lots of road walks in New Mexico so decided on the trail. How much water to carry? The next water cache was only 10 miles away. Based on the day before, I estimated 2.5 liters. Then some stretches and off to hike.
I had to use Guthook to figure out getting back on trail. Remember how the CDT is not well marked? The map clearly showed how the trail turned from a wash to follow along the bottom of the mountains we were paralleling. But where? Using Guthook/GPS, I found it. It wasn’t obvious. Helpfully, some hiker had built a small cairn to mark the spot. Lesson learned: look for clues from other hikers. The trail was more just looking for a worn footpath. The markers here were more sparse and didn’t have the blue CDT signs. Instead, they were simply large wooden posts held up by a pile of rocks. Navigation was a combination of following a semi-recognizable footpath or footprints, reaching a post and looking for the next one, and occasionally looking at Guthook to make sure. The posts were sometimes very obvious, but sometimes not. It was easy to confuse some with a yucca-like plant that grows a long and tall stem. And sometimes they were just poorly placed to be able to see the next one, due to terrain or the plants.
I made it sound more miserable than it was to find my way. It actually kept me on my toes, always watching and predicting where the trail should be. I deviated from the red line several times, but not by far and was able to easily correct. And from some footprints of those ahead of me, they did the same thing.
The morning was sunny and windy, but the winds were lighter than the night before and mostly at my back. The terrain was more tricky than the map showed. Since the trail followed the base of the mountains, there were numerous washes/gullies/draws to cross. The contour interval on the map was larger than the elevation changes on many of these so they didn’t show on the map. Lots of little ups and downs. And very rocky. It looks like a geologist’s dream here. Lots of varieties of volcanic rocks, quartz etc. Every wash seemed to expose a different kind of rock of different colors.
Remembering the previous day, I took a sit-down break about every 1 1/2 hours and snacked. I saw no other hikers and made it to the next water cache. Decision time again. The next water source was a little over 13 miles away. There was no way I was going to cover 23 miles on my second day on trail, so that meant camping before that water, which is known as dry camping. So, how much water to carry, considering water for cooking etc. at camp? I took a guess. I also looked at the map for a general area to camp. I thought I could do about 16 to 18 miles total on the day. There was nothing obvious in that area, so I just hoped for the best. And Roadkill, who had initially taken the road this morning, said he was going for about the same distance.
The trail just before the water cache had turned away slightly from the mountains and now was more rolling terrain. Rain threatened several times but I never got more than a drop or two. It was exciting to see two A-10 fighter planes flying at very low level across the desert and then through a gap in the mountains. Being a pilot I couldn’t help but think how turbulent it must have been for them with the strong winds and rain clouds in the area.
The trail mostly followed a Jeep trail at this point. The goal was just whatever I could do to setup camp before sunset or before rain threatened. Around 6 PM I started looking for a place to camp. The only good areas seemed to be in low areas or washes, both to get out of the wind and because the area had lots of small jagged rocks. The washes had some open sandy areas with higher compact dirt areas. I found a promising one, partly motivated by a dark set of clouds west of me. My first spot turned out a bit small for my tent, but another spot nearby worked. Then something odd happened. A four-wheeler came by with two guys in it who waved hello. It is hard to describe how remote this area is, and the trail/Jeep trail had gotten progressively worse, rutted, and partially washed out at this point. And it was nearing sunset. Well, I guess it was weird for me to be there too.
I crawled into my tent just in time for a light rain to start falling.